Q and A with BootsnAll Writer Craig Guillot

Please describe your writing background – what’s your ‘story’?
Although I majored in business in college, I started writing for the newspaper as a freshman. My reason for writing is the same for traveling – a burning curiosity and a desire to learn. It only seemed natural to combine the two. My articles have appeared in numerous publications including the Bark, Paddler, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, Miami Herald, Boston Herald and Washington Times. I also do copywriting and listings and nuts and bolts type editorial work for a number of newspapers and websites. You can read more about my work at www.craigguillot.com.

How did you discover BootsnAll?
Actually, I don’t really remember. I think I was Googling around the web and came across the site. I was really interested because if offered unique stories from everyday people that traveled the world.

Why did you write for BootsnAll?
Honestly? At the time, BootsnAll was the only place that would take my work. But the guys offered great feedback on my stories and the countless reader comments were really encouraging. BootsnAll really built my confidence to pursue this travel writing thing. And, the site really has a community type feel to it. The staff is great and the writers and readers all communicate with one another. One thing I will certainly vouch for is that BootsnAll offers massive exposure – I’m still receiving comments and emails on pieces that I wrote five years ago.

Have your BootsnAll articles lead to paying gigs? How so?
Many professional writers argue that beginning writer should never write for free. While I agree with it in part, I can speak from personal experience that writing for Bootsnall lead to paying gigs and eventually a full blown career. I used my clips from Bootsnall to get into small publications then into bigger newspapers and magazines. Everyone has to start somewhere and for travel writing, this is a great place.

You do have to do the legwork though. National Geographic isn’t going to find your spectacular piece on BootsnAll and call you up with an assignment. You have to be business-savvy, have thick skin and a load of persistence – you have to be in it for the long haul. You have to go out there and get it. I think it was about a year before I started making money with travel writing and another year or so before I started making a consistent income.

Is writing something you wanted to do professionally or was it for fun?
Traveling was the main thing I wanted to do. Writing just sort of came along with it. I wrote for my newspaper in college and always had an urge to document my adventures in journals and with photos. I didn’t really know what it was for, I just knew that I would use it someday. After a big backpacking jaunt through South and Central America in 1999, I had to try to figure out a way to do this stuff for a living. I didn’t want to find myself confined in some office for the rest of my life, only being let out two weeks a year to explore the world.

What do you do now as a profession? What role does writing/travel writing play?
After I finished college with a business degree, I was a bartender, construction worker, barista and auditor. I am now a full time freelance writer. Travel writing is still my passion but as in any other business you need a little diversification. I’d say that only about a third of my income comes from travel writing now.

What advice do you have for budding travel writers, or those that simply want to tell a good story about their last family vacation?
For those who just want to tell a good story, I say start by leaving out the insignificant details and events. Many beginning writers tend to elaborate on things that just aren’t pertinent to the story – details are great but only if they spice up the text or are relevant to the piece. And, try writing short – a perfectly-woven 900 word piece on your family vacation is always going to be a better read than a 10,000 word rambling of everything that happened. In narratives, take your reader on a journey by showing them what you experienced, not what you saw or toured. Use dialogues and interactions with the locals.

Of course, the more exotic and offbeat, the better. I think you’ll find that when approaching editors too – every writer and their mother covers the U.S., Europe and the Caribbean. You need to create angles, or better yet, just head to places that no one writes about. There is so much competition out there. The good thing is that most of it sucks, the bad thing is that your good stories and pitches sometimes get lost in the mountains of garbage that editors receive. That is also why follow-up is very important.

For those looking to actually make a decent living with any sort of writing, I would say to quit focusing so much on the actual writing. That’s right. Being a financially successful published writer is only about 20 percent writing. The other 80 percent is selling – promoting yourself, creating marketable ideas for targeted publications and learning to craft a good proposal. Once I learned that, I started getting big assignments and started making money. You’ll never make money if you don’t learn to handle the business end of it. There are many amazing writers who will never succeed because they can’t handle the business side and there are many mediocre writers who are very successful because they’re great businessmen.

You also need to have thick skin and persistence. Dozens, more likely hundreds, of rejections are part of the learning process in this field. Don’t be scared to pitch new ideas to editors and don’t be scared to keep approaching them with fresh ones. I’ve been shot down by some editors more than a dozen times before they finally bought something. If you’re not getting rejected, then you’re not trying hard enough.

And, you have to learn to target and fit your ideas to the needs of certain publications. In many cases, that means gritty, guidebook-style pieces that have more nuts and bolts stuff than an actual story. Some aspiring travel writers say they aren’t in it for the money but I don’t think anyone is. Having said that, why would you not want to make money with travel writing? Why not get paid to do something you love? If you don’t think with money in mind, you’ll never make it. If you don’t think of it as a business, it will never become one.